There is both good and bad news in store for gun owners in the Golden State with two federal appeals court rulings recently handed down. The good news is that the 5th District Court of Appeals in Fresno sent back a ruling to the lower court mandating microstamping. The bad news is that 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling, upholding the waiting period for existing gun owners.
Microstamping is a proposed technology to aid police in linking spent cases to individual guns. Guns equipped with microstamps should leave a unique mark on the case or primer on any ammunition they fire. Police can use the stamps to look up the gun by make, model and serial number.
California legislators passed a law requiring all semi-automatic firearms sold in the state to have microstamps as of 2010. Without any established microstamping technology or facilities the law was put on hold until 2013. In 2013 California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that the technology was viable. From then on all future semi-automatic handguns sold in California must comply with the microstamping requirements.
In 2014 the Calguns and the Second Amendment Foundation challenged the microstamping law. They lost the case in January 2015 when U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller ruled that gun owners’ rights were not being compromised because the microstamping requirement isn’t a ban.
But there are many proven problems with microstamping (.pdf). The stamps wear off over time, they often don’t leave clear marking and they can quickly clog with fouling and debris.
The most commonly-suggested type of microstamp is on the tip of the gun’s firing pin. These are consumable, user-replaceable parts. Not only do they wear, they can be defaced without affecting the function of the gun, or replaced with standard firing pins. And the primer also expands when it ignites, which can produce multiple imprints on top of each other as it re-strikes the firing pin.
Because of these problems and others no company has bothered to establish any microstamping facilities. To put it simply the foundation for this technology doesn’t exist. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) appealed the decision successfully.
“It would be illogical to uphold a requirement that is currently impossible to accomplish,” wrote Justice Herbert Levy for the 5th District Court of Appeals. The appeals court sent back the lower court’s ruling.
While this may not result in the abolition of California’s safe handgun laws, it may result in the repeal of the microstamping requirement as it stands today. That alone would be a big win for gun rights in California.
Where things took a turn for the worse is with the state’s 10-day waiting period. In August 2014 District Judge Anthony Ishii ruled that part of California’s waiting period was unconstitutional. He ruled that gun owners that have already passed background checks and underwent the waiting period should not have to go through additional waiting periods afterward.
Prohibited persons are actively tracked in California so the 10-day waiting period is a “cooling off” window to theoretically prevent lawful purchasers from committing crimes with their new guns.
Ishii also said that the state’s background check system was unnecessary and that California should instead use the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system. The appellate court disagreed, finding no legal issues with the extra waiting periods.
“This case provides a useful illustration of the incremental ‘creep’ that occurs once a gun-control law gets passed,” said the NRA-ILA. “California’s first waiting period was a law that imposed an overnight wait period for handgun purchases only, and codified in 1953 as part of the California Penal Code. Two years later, the handgun waiting period was expanded from one day to three days.”
“In 1965, the wait period was again extended, from three days to five, and was extended yet again, ten years later, to 15 days (but reduced to ten days in 1996 because faster processing of background checks was available). In 1991, the wait period was expanded to apply to all gun sales, not just handgun purchases.”
In 2016 California also passed new legislation requiring background checks for all ammunition purchases, among other unnecessary and burdensome gun laws.